Early reform efforts caused a great deal of economic pain and social dislocation, and it was no surprise that the re-clothed communists of old were able to grab back power through democratic means in many countries in the region. The resultant governments could do little to improve the lives of ordinary citizens, but did provide license for cronies to further plunder what economic assets remained in the region.
As economies collapsed in Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, the European Union began its efforts in earnest to bring these fragile states into the fold of modern Europe. The guiding role of the EU in guaranteeing reform in Eastern Europe was and remains a critical element in the recipe for success.
The EU played several important roles:.
Democracy Assessment – Getting Europe Right
Beginning in , EU accession became a reality for many East European states in a process that remains in place to this day Croatia being the most recent admission. For those countries still seeking to ensure economic and democratic transition, the prospect of EU membership remains a powerful tool in driving this process. Inclusion into the EU however, is no guarantee of success. While states such as Poland and Slovakia have done well within the EU framework, largely due to market-oriented and fiscally responsible policymaking, many of the Eastern states have seen rollbacks on both the democratic and economic fronts even after joining the EU.
What is interesting to note is the limits of EU influence in post-expansion environments, when the carrot of EU membership is no longer available and the ability of Brussels to influence local policy becomes more limited. Economic pressures resulting from the global recession triggered the rise of populist politics in many countries in the region. Hungary, long a beacon of EU progress, has become the most visible example of democratic roll-back, with the rise of extreme right parties and resulting electoral victories providing the Fidesz-led government an overwhelming mandate which it has attempted to use to limit judicial independence and threaten press freedoms.
Although the EU has warned Hungary of its concerns regarding these matters, the government has set about enacting constitutional reforms that the opposition fears will allow it to consolidate its hold on power. Like its neighbor, Bulgaria too has had its share of EU criticism over rampant corruption, and democratic institutions are feeling a significant strain as the long-lasting effects of corruption and fiscal imbalances brought down the Sofianski government, leading to ongoing street protests.
The young democracies in East-Central and Southeast Europe have been particularly susceptible to the wave of populist, anti-establishment and extremist political forces that now challenge liberal democracy across the globe. These challengers claim to represent the opinion of the ordinary people against a political establishment that is portrayed as corrupt, elitist and controlled by foreign interests.
Their polarizing and anti-pluralist ideological stances have contributed to a more confrontational political competition. Illiberal policies have targeted opposition parties, parliaments, independent public watchdog institutions, judiciaries, local and regional self-government, mass media, civil society organizations, private business and minority communities.
Democratic Consolidation in East-Central Europe
Incumbent elites have justified these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post democratic transitions. Populist parties advocate public policies that reflect the preferences of ordinary citizens, and their electoral success indicates that people believe their claims. Governing populist parties in Hungary, Poland and other Central and East European countries have systematically eroded institutions of democratic accountability, justifying these policies as measures to strengthen popular democracy and to fulfill the promises of the post democratic transitions.
Although this erosion has been criticized as democratic backsliding and illiberal drift by scholars and international institutions, significant shares of voters continue to view it as steps towards a more responsive democracy. The subsequent economic and refugee crises have weakened the credibility of mainstream political parties in East-Central and Southeast Europe ECSE since prosperity and security no longer appear to be guaranteed consequences of European integration.
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The declining legitimacy of incumbents has provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization. While these crisis-induced influences have been similar in all ECSE countries, the extent to which populist challengers have been able to win elections and form governments has varied significantly across countries.
To explore these differences and assess the likelihood of populist electoral victories and subsequent illiberal policies in ECSE, the paper combines case studies of Hungary, Macedonia and Poland with a multivariate analysis of party systems, issue dimensions and cleavage configurations. It is argued that populist parties have attained political majorities through bipolar party competition, facilitated by congruent cleavages, particularly the congruence between sociocultural and EU-related cleavages.
Based upon a comparison of the country cases, the paper discusses conditions that could constrain the illiberal erosion of democracy in ECSE.
In recent years, the illiberal tendencies characteristic of several East-Central and Southeast European countries have taken their toll on nearly all segments of society, from opposition parties to parliaments and judiciaries, to oversight institutions, local and regional self-governing administrative organs, the media, NGOs, the private sector and minority groups as well. Rather these institutions are, over time, re-interpreted and subject to changes that pull them increasingly further away from the understanding that led the democratization processes of the s and the enlargement of the EU in the s.
In recent years, the dismantling and erosion processes in Hungary and Poland have raised particular international attention. However, illiberal thinking and acting have meanwhile proliferated to numerous states of East-Central and Southeast Europe. My regional report is part of the Transformation Index project , a global comparison and expert survey on democracy, market economy and governance in developing and postsocialist countries.
The subsequent economic and refugee crises have questioned the promise of prosperity and security associated with European integration. Governments in East-Central and Southeast Europe struggled to bridge between the diverging policy expectations of voters on the one hand, international economic and political actors on the other. The weakened credibility of mainstream political parties provided opportunities for populist and anti-establishment mobilization.
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Democratic Consolidation in East-Central Europe
Ask Seller a Question. Title: Democratic Consolidation in East-Central Dust Jacket Condition: Good. A revised and updated version of the authors' Politischer Kulturwandel in Ost-Mitteleuropa. The text condenses the data and results of a comparative research project initiated in and carried out over several years.
The authors discuss the concepts of democratic consolidation and analyze the development of support for the political and economic system in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Special attention is given to experiences of the consolidation process in Germany, Italy, and Austria after as well as the more recent developments in Latin America and Southern Europe.